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HomeIssue 47How our most troubled young people are falling through the cracks …...

How our most troubled young people are falling through the cracks … and some possible answers

By RAINER CHLANDA

Images by TAMARA CORNTHWAITE

In the most extreme cases, troubled young people in Alice Springs can be surrounded by a dizzying number of services: they may have a primary case manager with an NGO; a bed and an assigned worker at ASYASS; a youth outreach worker (YORET) managing their parole amongst a case-load of 30 or so; they may be in a domestic violence program with Tangentyere and a substance misuse program with DASA; they may have St Joe’s College attempting an at-home pickup every day; be in a diversionary program with The Gap Youth Centre; be seeing a psychologist at Congress; and have a Territory Families Child Protection Case Worker that oversees all of this from afar.

But, I know from experience, it isn’t uncommon for a week to go by without anybody sighting them and that’s not through a lack of trying.

This isn’t to say that those programs are completely ineffective – they may enjoy good engagement and do meaningful work, but many who are most at risk, of harm and of contact with Youth Justice, who have high needs and may be recidivist offenders are falling through the cracks.

The young people concerned here are often highly transient – constantly on the move and staying between numerous homes. This may be to avoid certain homes where trouble is brewing or seek out others where a payment has come in so therefore the power is on and there’s more food to go around.

They are also constantly motivated by a desire to maintain contact and strong relationships with numerous family members. The same motives have many spontaneously jumping in a car and disappearing out bush.

If these young people don’t feel compelled to reach out to a service of their own volition, it is incredibly difficult to locate them, let alone have them engage with you.

We are failing them and at the same time not making headway on what many consider to be the town’s number one issue – youth-led antisocial and criminal activity.

Maybe it’s time to think beyond our usual responses.

These photographs were taken at the Meeting Place, behind Adelaide House, right in the centre of town. Run by volunteers it demonstrated the demand for a drop-in centre in the CBD as soon as it opened its doors. It could be a hive of activity; it could also be a place for young people to sleep safely (see at top and below). 

To work with troubled youth in any setting we need to acknowledge the real agency they have and accept that coaxing them into doing anything they don’t want to do is an uphill battle and usually fruitless.

Anyone who’s worked as a carer in residential care homes will know this too well. Despite there being an expectation or “rule” that the young people in care “must” go to school or be home at a certain hour, if they decide they want to skip school or walk out the door in the middle of the night, they will do so almost invariably, despite all efforts by the carers to stop them.

People are often amazed and appalled to hear how a young vulnerable person is “allowed” to make such decisions, but this is the point: As you cannot, for good reasons including legal ones, physically stop them from enacting their will, the only way to have any sway over their actions is through a strong and trusting relationship – whether someone is “allowed” barely comes into it.

The bulk of the public, including policy makers, are far removed from the youth concerned in this article. In thinking about what to do, they are likely left referencing the non-troubled young people in their own lives – who are far more inclined to take instructions and obey rules – projecting this experience onto how troubled young people may behave and what they will respond to. Not surprisingly, this is terribly misleading.

Our community’s anger that the streets are unsafe to walk through at night, that our homes are continually broken into (I certainly haven’t been spared), that at the worst of times the recklessness and chaos on the streets can result, as it did for motorcyclist Shane Powell last month, in a life being tragically cut short, is understandable.

Anger is a natural response to injustice. Indeed, it’s surely one of the prevalent emotions that motivate young people to offend. But we can’t let it lead us to irrationally support over-simplified and punitive reactions that have been proven ineffective.

With young people running riot in the street at night it is tempting to support the introduction of a curfew. It tempts us the way any proposal that employs strong language and basic notions to remedy complex issues does (like building a wall, or stopping a boat), and does so despite research “cast[ing] strong doubts on the claims that juvenile curfew laws prevent victimisation or reduce juvenile crime” and even finding that “juvenile crime during curfew hours was slightly positive — that is a slight increase in crime.”

If the police were to attempt to remove from the street all the young people who are out at 10pm every night, I anticipate a never-ending game of cat and mouse. There’s already a culture of this – many young people have told me gleefully of times they’ve “taken coppers for a run”.

Then, if they’re caught, they might resist, possibly committing an offence. Once they’re taken home (if not into custody) most of them would simply walk back to town or roam the suburbs.

In this scenario, possibly contributing to the likelihood of residential break-ins, the allocation of extensive police resources comes at a great expense to the public in dollars as well as safety: police will surely be slower to respond to emergencies if preoccupied chasing kids and being taxi for them. 

It also achieves yet another potential point of contact with the justice system for a demographic that’s already massively over-represented in the courts and gaols, and merely shifts any anti-social and criminal activity to the suburbs and potentially into homes where people are vulnerably sleeping.

We are taught in trauma-informed practice that challenging behaviour should be understood as “acting out”; actions that demonstrate unmet need when one doesn’t have the capacity to express the need in words. If we accept that young people, choosing to misbehave on the streets late at night rather than stay at home, indicates unmet needs and psychological distress, then we should accept that any policy or measure that isn’t aimed at correcting these underlying causes is futile in a fundamental way.

Another tempting notion and popular trope is that we must “hold parents to account.” I’m often struck by the vagueness of this statement and that those voicing it don’t feel obliged to elaborate, as though it is a policy in itself.

How does one hold someone else to account in this context? I assume the idea isn’t referring to holistic service delivery where programs aim to extend inclusion and support to the families of young people in need. I assume it’s referring instead to coercive social-engineering measures such as cutting child-support payments to the caregivers of kids not attending school, or, as some have suggested, making caregivers pay for the damage to property that their children do.

The appeal of measures like this is obvious but misguided; they satisfy the desire to penalise the presumed caregiver for their negligence, but where’s the evidence that their negligence or inability to keep their young people out of trouble can be remedied with a small financial penalty?

There is ample evidence showing that impoverished communities have higher rates of dysfunction, incarceration, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence, so why would further entrenching their poverty help foster responsible caregiving?

In my experience working with young people in contact with the justice system and their families, caregivers are unable to provide sufficient supervision and care to their dependents either because their modest resources (including energy) are exhausted by the demands of large families and pressures of their struggling community, or their capacity to provide adequate care has been too badly damaged by their own history of trauma. Any effort to encourage responsible caregiving that isn’t aimed at correcting these underlying causes is futile in a fundamental way.

After years working in the youth sector close to the most at-risk, high needs, disengaged, recidivist offenders with complex trauma, I believe that only culturally-informed therapeutic practices can increase their psychological wellbeing and strengthen support networks, and that this is the only long-term protective factor against offending.

Programs must interrupt, not contribute to, the vicious, hopeless cycles young offenders exist in. There are developed frameworks informed by sound research that teach us how to work in this way; there are skilled practitioners and strong leaders ready to act; the resources are there; but the challenge of how to achieve a meaningful level of engagement from our most vulnerable young people, remains unsolved. 

Apart from the very few philanthropically funded programs in Alice Springs, all other initiatives aimed at working with troubled youth of course rely on government funding, so must have a political (and therefore public) appeal. I fear the dilemma we’re in is that a program which has any hope of engaging young offenders to a meaningful degree may have no public or political appeal in the current climate.

But, motives aside, what everyone ultimately wants is for the young people in trouble to be staying out of trouble and in safe and responsible environments, right?

We are taught in trauma-informed practice that it is counter-productive trying to talk to people about their behaviour when they are “escalated”. When they are “escalated” or “heightened” their sympathetic nervous system is “hyper-aroused”, meaning they are in fight or flight mode and have reduced executive functioning (the mental processes responsible for reflection, controlling emotions, following instructions etc).

We are taught to help them de-escalate (to assist them in calming down and “coming back into themselves”) by promoting safety, both physical and emotional. Only once they feel safe and again have access to all faculties of their brain do we attempt to address the behaviour.

Perhaps our responses to youth are hamstrung by a system where programs aimed at servicing this highly vulnerable demographic are only funded when they promise to pursue outcomes that have political appeal, and that this very mandate is what dooms the programs.

If the intended recipients have complex trauma they may simply not be ready to talk about, for example, their substance misuse or offending, or their experience of family violence. Nor do they feel calm enough to enter an educational setting.

What if there was a program for high-risk young offenders that initially put all of the usual objectives aside, and instead made its primary objective achieving nothing else but regular engagement?

Beyond supervision and occupation, ongoing engagement would allow many incidental therapeutic benefits, such as the building of strong and trusting relationships (secure attachments); exposure to good role models, with physical and emotional safety ensured by responsible adults; basic necessities such as food being secure; experiencing structure (going to the same place regularly at a certain time, seeing the same people who maintain the same regard for you and expectations of you etc) thereby providing predictability which promotes safety.

Positive senses of self and healthy life-narratives are promoted through a strength based approach and positive reinforcement, and respectful and healthy relationships are modelled. Other services needing to make contact with the young person would also benefit from having a reliable place to look for their client. All of this can be done at the same time as doing whatever it is (within reason) that keeps the young person engaged.

The program should be allowed time to achieved prolonged (say three months) and regular (most days of the week) engagement. The young person needs to have calmed, to be within their “window of tolerance”, which means the range of nervous system arousal that’s considered healthy and allows full brain function. And they need to have formed trust with the workers and one another (the work should be done with a small cohort, known to one another already). Then the difficult sensitive discussions can be attempted, and work towards outcomes like school attendance can carefully begin.

The merits of such a program reflect the thinking and frameworks I learnt working as a case manager in an intensive youth support service. Essentially case managers and support workers in various programs are permitted to work this way, but are not given the time, nor the support (they often work alone but have supervision) nor the resources to achieve regular engagement.

Tamara (Tammy) Cornthwaite painting with young people – a moment of calm and focus. Photo by David Nixon.

Even in an “intensive” (meaning a small caseload) support service, case managers will have to support, through a five-day week, around seven high-needs clients, who are the centre of their focus, as well as their families.

The working week can easily be consumed by seeking emergency relief, responding to crises, supporting young people to attend appointments (this is often the biggest challenge), diversion commitments, court appearances and so on. All of this is of course important work, but it means the therapeutic work inevitably falls by the wayside.

So how might a program seek to reach and engage the young people who have for the most part avoided all other services? I am arguing that it would be by meeting them wherever their interests lie and wherever they move to.

We can look to programs with obvious successes and at what young people outside a structured setting show interest in, but this should only provide a range of ideas that the program can offer, not a model the program is bound to by a funding agreement.

I’ve observed in my own work and in other services young people responding strongly to bike riding (especially on the mountain bike trials going way out into our calming and beautiful landscape), bush trips, playing music, dancing, cultural practices (there appears to be nothing more precious to Aboriginal youth than their Aboriginality), mechanics, hunting, and camping. 

Many young people seek out the company of their family members first, followed by members of their language groups, then Aboriginal people more broadly.

It’s evident that they wish to be visible, to be seen by the public and be amongst the community – they choose spaces in the CBD over other public youth spaces like the skatepark.

Stealing food tells us they’re hungry, running amok in town shows us that they yearn attention.

Informed by observations such as these, a program could be well prepared to offer a range of things likely to appeal to the group; it could form client cohorts of family members or language groups, be predominantly (if not entirely) run by trained Aboriginal workers and ideally of the same language group as the client; it could ensure some activities are done in the public eye; it could have at its disposal the necessary basic resources like food, bikes, instruments, tools. But importantly, it must not prescribe any of these things but rather have them as options the young people are free to take up.

I worked for years with a young fella who was, and still is, in and out of detention, predominantly for joyriding in stolen cars. I developed a close and trusting relationship with him and his family, he’d seek my support and company regularly and we engaged in numerous recreational activities together, but his interests were always fleeting.

I tried endlessly to encourage his involvement in organised sports, other programs, workshops – all to no avail. Then I caught wind of an opportunity for a troubled young person made available by local business Jetcor Yamaha.

After a series of break-ins where motorbikes were stolen and their shop badly damaged, Garth (the owner), in recognising the town’s disadvantaged young people’s obvious want for the thrills of motor sports, responded by setting up the Sadadeen Quad Squad.

This is an ongoing program where kids from Sadadeen Primary School are rewarded for their good attendance and behaviour with the opportunity to ride quad bikes at the motocross track.

Garth also offered to fix up a rally car for a young person to use as their own (paint job with their name on it and all) and race at Arunga Park Speedway.

I got in quick and Garth reserved the offer for my client. I was convinced that this would finally be the thing to grab him, it was the perfect fit, but when I gave my excited spiel there was barely a moment’s consideration before he said, “Nah, I’m right.”

He was never able explain to me why it didn’t appeal, but I learned the lesson regardless; no matter how well informed you may be about a young person and their interests, nor how remarkable an offer is, you don’t know what will stick until you try, and for some nothing at all will stick for long.

The inability to maintain focus is another deficit that those with complex trauma often experience. When you’re in fight or flight mode, you’re hyper-vigilant, constantly scanning for threats, and you therefore cannot afford to become completely absorbed in a single task.

To stay with those who spend so much time in this mode we need to remain ready to abandon an activity and move on to whatever else will sustain them. If we don’t, they will simply walk. Above all else, something just needs to hold onto them. This is why it’s important that a program isn’t shackled by a narrow mandate.

In writing this I anticipate a backlash; I can already hear the responses –“So we’re going to reward criminal behaviour with a program that provides fun activities and lets kids do what they want?”

To this I say, that thinking about these kids as criminals first and as victims of far greater injustices later, is precisely where we take the first wrong step. When a study was conducted in a Youth Detention Centre in Perth assessing the cognitive functioning of the children detained, 89 per cent were found to have a severe cognitive impairment.

Serious offending doesn’t happen in a vacuum nor does cognitive impairment; they are often the result of abuse and neglect; of trauma. Any response to these young people that doesn’t acknowledge their trauma and promote healing is futile in a fundamental way.

Let us be of big enough heart and mind to respond to the real needs of these young people, then we can begin everything else.

 

 

Rainer Chlanda is an Alice Springs-born youth worker and winner of the Fitzgerald Youth Award – NT Human Rights Awards 2018. He has worked for a number of NGOs in Alice Springs and Melbourne, including as a case manager and a program coordinator.

 

Related reading (by Rainer Chlanda):

 

Real young people, not the faceless offender

Turn rock-throwing into backflips: how community can help

Keeping youth in sight

Youth crisis: broken window of tolerance

Last updated 29 November 2020, 11.20am

20 COMMENTS

  1. Once again, thank you Rainer, for your considered and informed advocacy. Your experiences ring true with mine and I find it tragic in the extreme that our community has invested so little in youth infrastructure, mentorship and pathways to adulthood. With all the resources of government we seem unable to create superior alternatives to the basic ‘challenges’ of petty crime and baiting the cops. Much of the youth activity on the streets is less about crime and more about socialising and performing stunts for the peer group but we won’t even allow the use of skateable furniture in the mall!
    Of course young people want to be visible and it comes as no surprise that they gravitate to the town centre. The youth hub at Anzac was given sparse resources by a Labor Government, rundown by the CLP and finally destroyed by the present Labor Government in favour of a tourism development venture. Imagine, the unmet potential of that site for film studios, rehearsal rooms, theatre and elements of vocational training. A significant focal point that could have attracted private investment, energy and opportunity.
    Imagine a ninja warrior course to challenge young men and women physically, embed some cross cultural team events, technical and ethical decision making… Who needs to enter a house and steal car keys from a bedside table to satisfy some bastard form of initiation demanded by your peers in a local gang?
    Unfortunately decades of neglect have created a challenging critical mass who are creating their own ‘fun’. There are no quick fixes and while I don’t condone the criminal behaviour that impacts this town I do read much of youth action on the streets as a cry for help. Trapped by circumstances (family obligations or dysfunction, not just their own choices as some would have us believe), young people can clearly see a welfare future that has swallowed so many of their relatives, jobless, homeless, addiction, dialysis and premature death.
    Family and youth infrastructure needs to be planned throughout the town to spread options and address the glaring needs. A major youth hub and a raft of suburban youth centres should have been established decades ago. This might have saved the admirable town library youth program from being over taxed and ultimately axed. High quality egalitarian public spaces are also needed, some cool outdoor spaces to provide respite when the air conditioner at home is not working.
    After a long period of absence the Town Council has recently indicated a willingness to invest in young people. While we wait for tangible progress I’d encourage teenagers to use the skateable furniture in the mall and the Council rangers to look the other way.

  2. Congratulations on an amazing article, Rainer! You certainly held my attention with your voice of wisdom and knowledge amongst the ruckus. Unfortunately in my case you are preaching to the converted as I too have been a youth worker for many years and my heart sings with the sincerity and truth of your words.
    Let’s just hope the message gets through to others and we can heal the wound not keeping trying with futility to mop the blood on the floor. How true the limitations on outcomes when they are decided by any other than the young people themselves. This is the best article I have seen from this site in a long time. Nice work Alice Springs News, good on you for publishing. Jaz

  3. Thanks to both Rainer and Mike for sharing their considered views of our town’s youth culture. Have you considered broadcasting these perceptions on other local media?

  4. Rainer, while I’ve been reading your article and the attached links I got lost in my own thoughts of days gone by, in my youth.
    I’m even looking forward to re-reading all of it again.
    It so hits on the experiences I can look back on as a young ‘rebellious’ person of the ‘seventies and it makes me think again of how I came through it all.
    Let me say from the outset, I was lucky enough to the have had the best people, as I saw them, around me, both within the circles I associated with at the time (they were ratbags, but so was I) and at home, where before I ran away to enjoy the ‘fast life’ I was cared for and loved. It was a time of much change.
    I listened only to those who shared my views and I became a ‘pariah’ to the many friends I had earlier grown up with. I indulged in what would have been considered a ‘risk taking’ lifestyle but it was in line with the society norms of the day.
    I was given ample opportunities to address my rebelliousness and over time came into contact with the people who guided me towards the wonderful and very precious life I have today.
    This involved a tertiary education, the first in my family to go to university and becoming a parent of now tertiary educated adults who have families of their own.
    My own education led to working with ‘offenders’, some of them Aboriginal and this involved travelling to communities where I gained an insight into what you are describing, as a caseworker.
    Your words are a reminder to us all, that “ anger is a natural response to injustice” and I can concur wholeheartedly with that yet, the road to forgiveness is not lost, in any of us, when we attempt to walk in the shoes of those who are searching for the trust and safety of a person who is willing to listen.
    We now have a 24/7 youth initiative being trialled in town.
    Can we support it, of course we can, and encourage our young people to see it as a place they can be welcomed “unconditionally” to drop in to and maybe, just maybe, those young people will one day look back and appreciate the support that I believe both you and I have benefitted from.
    Keep writing Rainer, and thank you for the memories.

  5. Nice article. What you describe as needed = youth programs. Engagement is voluntary, positive and safe environments provided, positive relationships form. But the reason the kids are acting like they have nothing to lose is because they have already lost almost everything and are living as refugees in their own country. Until we fix the underlying injustice there will be no peace.

  6. Thanks again Rainer- such a deeply considered outlook, and Mike – yes, youth hubs around town and in the cbd!

  7. To Rainer and Mike, a big thank you for a very detail analysis of the current situation and the issue of angry youth in our town. I only hope that “they” in Darwin will read this article and take notice. Have they been sent a copy? Can they be flexible enough to answer with long term projects without immediate massive results? The issue took the last 100 years to develop to its critical point today, it may take a few long years to remedy. But as Dr Fred Hollows says in the Foundation ad, every eye is an eye, every young life is a life, one at a time and in exponential growth we’ll get there.

  8. Thanks Rainer. Keep in mind that shame is a big driver of Aboriginal youth behaviour that should not be underestimated.
    Fix up a rally car for a young person to race at Arunga Park Speedway?
    Shame!
    Walk into Head Space and despite the Aboriginal pics on the walls it is overwhelmingly a den of white fella psychologists.
    Too much shame to go there.
    I asked an Aboriginal counsellor from CONGRESS if he would use the service?
    He scoffed. ‘I’d talk to my Uncle’ he said.
    I’m wary of explanations for offending that resort to a trauma model.
    Not that it’s always inappropriate but the pervasive use of trauma is a cop out and it often doesn’t take into account cultural differences.
    For example, many Aboriginal prisoners have been categorised as lacking empathy because they haven’t defended their wives in a fight between her family and another.
    But in their society it is considered completely wrong for him to defend her.
    Family is stronger than marriage.
    We can get to the point where most Aboriginal people are viewed as traumatised idiots when the idiot is actually the social worker or psychologist making a call based on his own narrow way of seeing the world.

  9. I agree Maya : The issue took the last 100 years to develop to its critical point today, it may take a few long years to remedy.’ It will, may be, have been remedied early if the curriculum of our education system had mixed the two ways like Wenten Rubuntja wanted done and included bush tucker in home economics, Aborigine Art in Art Department, making of cultural tools in manual arts and especially above all teach Aborigines culture in Social Science.

  10. Thanks for your very thoughtful post Rainer.
    Thanks also for starting this excellent public discussion about productive ways to go forward with youth services in Alice.
    In principle, your proposal, supported by other insightful contributions such as Mike Gillam’s, for strong investment in basic youth activities supported by strong youth workers is a good practical way forward.
    Let’s all try to help to create public support for this proposal.
    However, Blair’s reminder that we have to do a reset in CA/NT, try to sort out our fundamental arrangements for Aboriginal inclusion and self-determination, is even more important.
    So we have a LOT of heavy lifting to do.

  11. Hey Jason. Maybe it would help you to learn about trauma before assuming someone who experiences trauma is an idiot.
    Trauma informed practice includes being culturally competent and thus focused on allying with people’s significant strengths and ability to protect themselves.

  12. Excellent analysis of the situation – want to add that Indigenous people throughout the world have a strong belief in a spiritual dimension to life – that humans are in fact primarily spiritual beings – so how do the youth reconnect meaningfully with the human spirit, in a way that acknowledges “universal” human rights – like the equality of women and men? If programmes and individuals aren’t tapping into this core dimension of human motivation for change I fear that they will fail.

  13. Thankyou Alice Springs News and the commentators for taking the trouble to write with encouragement.

    As someone who has worked and lived with young people in Central Australia for many years I would like to underline one section of your article Rainer – this paragraph:

    ‘Programs must interrupt, not contribute to, the vicious, hopeless cycles young offenders exist in. There are developed frameworks informed by sound research that teach us how to work in this way; there are skilled practitioners and strong leaders ready to act; the resources are there; but the challenge of how to achieve a meaningful level of engagement from our most vulnerable young people, remains unsolved.’

    It would be very helpful if the Alice News could continue Rainer’s article with a series, inviting those local ‘skilled practitioners and strong leaders’ to write and pick up the themes and experiences.

    Perhaps Rainer and Blair from the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service would be among those who know exactly who to invite ?

  14. Thank you all for your thoughts and contributions.

    @ Mike Gillam
    I think your grasp of the issue is spot on and your vision for addressing it energising.
    It is abundantly clear that the youth are stubbornly going to remain a part of the action in the CBD and we should welcome this. “High quality egalitarian public spaces” would appeal to young people’s interests thereby providing an environment in which they’ll naturally excel and in turn become celebrated by the public. This would shift the way they’re seen by the public and how they see themselves (inextricably related).

    Youth-led antisocial behaviour tells us a lot, including, as you say their need for “socialising” and performing stunts.” The fact that much of the socialising and stunts are done in heart of town informs us that these very evident needs won’t be met by pushing young people out of sight into buildings on the fringe town. I’ve written about this in “Turn rock-throwing into backflips: how community can help”

    p.s. remember it’s not jut the “teenagers” who want to skate those lovely benches in the mall!

    @Relieved
    Thanks for your appreciation, I’m warmed to hear that you resonated with the piece so strongly.

    @Blair McFarland
    Thanks Blair.
    Yes, another youth program, but one that works intensively with small groups and places importance on their regular engagement above all else. I’d argue that many programs already exist where engagement is voluntary and where positive and safe environments are established, but the young people concerned in this piece aren’t being captured by them. I think it’s clear that we need to try something beyond those very necessary foundations.
    Agreed, “until we fix the underlying injustice there will be no peace” – my proposal is only attempting to address one area within the greater struggle.

  15. Wise insights from Rainer, thank you. And complemented by constructive comments from Mike and others.
    I keep looking at the photographs taken by Tamara Cornthwaite and one of Tammy at work and of the portraits presumably in collaboration. What do the photos show? What might be relevant to the concern and suggestions in this important article? I see young children asleep in what presumably they feel is a safer place; juxtaposed with action; a space with outside and inside; few material things – skateboard, paints, projector, chairs etc a functional space; helping hands; art of various sorts including tags, statements, statements about authority; only two written guidelines; dynamic walls painted and overpainted; artists and others working together.
    Looking deeper what do the photos of the paintings show? Young people as individuals, of variety, individuality, bright eyes, strength, humour, sassiness, quietness – individuals and together too.
    As a long term Mparntwe resident in her 50s, I am deeply grateful to people like Rainer, Tammy, their Aboriginal counterparts and others who actually bridge different life ways and generations too.

  16. Thanks so much Rainer (and others participating in this vital public discussion), for such a great article, that really speaks loud and clear to this important conversation and our collective responsibility to do much better for the marginalised young people of our community.
    Like yourself, my many years of working with young people in Central Australia, and largely specifically with “young offenders”, has me resonating completely with your insights, and in particular your observation that offending doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Young “offenders” are indeed often acting out of the anger generated by their lived experience of the far greater offence of the systemic injustices and inter-generational and continuing dispossession that they and their families face.
    Until as a whole community we address the root causes of disadvantage and entrenched racism, and commit to genuinely inclusive and safe spaces, places and programs; where young people themselves, and their families, are given access and agency in their design and operation, I feel we will continue to fall into the conundrum you articulate well; of aiming at pleasing the body-politic and funding bodies and hence inadvertently creating more, of what my brother coined the term for, “Tough On Trauma” initiatives.

    I recall when I was working coordinating Youth Diversion programs seven years ago and the allocation of funding to the renovations of the Anzac Hill Youth and Community centre was being hailed as a long overdue response to address youth crime; by creating a state of the art and centrally located accessible and well resourced youth centre. Sadly this great facility has failed to be inclusive of the young people in our community who would most benefit from it. The recent history of the public library’s great endeavour to be inclusive, is another poignant example.

    So here we are, seven years on, discussing a 24/7 youth space, interestingly located directly across the road from the Anzac Hill Youth Centre.
    Let’s all support this wholeheartedly. But critically, let’s not let it be conceived as another youth-crime bandaid measure, but instead be nourished and well resourced as a culturally inclusive and SAFE place that celebrates young people’s energy; not a place which police and other government agencies use to monitor young First Nations people’s movements, and where they are seen primarily as potential criminals, rather than as extraordinary young people on the difficult journey into adulthood, in a place where they intrinsically belong. (And belong more than us settlers and all our grand ideas and institutions do.)

  17. @Rainer: Rainer you raise some very interesting and valid points. We are though paying for our past decisions and it is likely to take generations to get back to some semblance of order.
    You’re ability to share knowledge from both sides of the issues clearly shows that you have considerable experience with youth.
    The big problem now though is that because of past decisions and the challenges and time required to mend this situation, the average person is at their wits’ end with the amount of crime in town.
    So, from this I see two courses of actions are required, the first being immediately dealing with crime and the second being the long term plan to repair the damage. Both of these need to run in conjunction with each other.
    I have one question regarding the word “marginalised”. Are the marginalised people marginalised (generally speaking) because of their own actions?

  18. Rainer, thank you for this contribution to this complex story. I find it has many thoughtful, careful observations and proposals. However, while you suggest “Maybe it’s time to think beyond our usual responses”, you have omitted the most essential, the most violent, the most challenging; institutional racism implemented and maintained by this colonial state.

    I am a white settler, a colonised person, a migrant to Australia, and I suggest fellow white readers, white policy makers and white people in service delivery, invest. Invest in whiteness, in unsettling whiteness, in exploring white fragility, and working every day in every exchange, to be antiracist. There is much work to be done, and plenty of expertise to guide this unsettling. Without this work all our contributions continue to reinstate the status quo.

    P:S I don’t understand what this sentence means, I think it needs further explanation; “there appears to be nothing more precious to Aboriginal youth than their Aboriginality”.

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